Jesus! Get off your donkey now!
I want to look at this intersection of one of Jesus’ most triumphant event and one of Jesus’ most tragic event. In the calendar of the Christian Church this is known as Palm Sunday. Some speak of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem as a tragic entry. His entry was one of indescribable sadness if we consider the highlights of Jesus’ ministry and the surrounding situation. It was a very, very sad entry. Although a picture of indescribable sadness, it’s an event that moves into indescribable joy. This is why we normally speak of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem as a triumphal entry.
I invite you to turn to your Bible to Matthew chapter 21. We are going to received a word from God, by opening the Word of God.
I want you to imagine that you have heard of a controversial public figure. He was born and raised in your neck of the woods, he has the same beliefs as you, he goes to the events you go to. He can trace his family tree roots to great kings of the nation. He has a strong spiritual heritage, and he is a local religious leader, a teacher. You heard that he has been proclaimed to be the Godly King, and after hearing the reports of him having compassion and authority to raise his friend from the grave, you have hopes that he is the Godly King your nation needs. Because your nation is governed by a foreign nation and has oppressed you. Imagine that this controversial public figure is coming to your city for an event that you are going to. So, as we read Matthew chapter 21, I want us to see what exactly it meant for Jesus to enter into Jerusalem. 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Have you ever read this familiar story and wondered, How was it that on that exact day and during that exact moment when Jesus rode into Jerusalem though the Eastern Gate there was a huge crowd standing there with branches in their hands waiting to welcome the Messiah? If we don’t understand Jewish culture and Temple practices we will miss beauty and the power of this huge day in the life and ministry of Jesus. Let me set up the context so we can appreciate the context.
It’s Sunday, the first day of Passover week, which means 3 million people have come to Jerusalem to celebrate. Now, for every the Passover, a lamb from Bethlehem would be selected by the high priest and after selecting the lamb he would carry it back to the city though the Eastern Gate on Sunday. A large crowd would gather at the gate and shout the prayers of the Hallel Psalms (113-18), they would repeatedly cry out “Hosanna to the lamb of God who has come to take our sins away!” As part of their cry they would rustle palm branches.
This explains why the crowd was at the Eastern Gate, palm branches in hand, when Jesus entered. In the gospel of John, we are told Jesus is met by the people the reason why the crowed greeted him is because they heard that two days ago he rose Lazarus from the grave (John 12:18).
So you have Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was proclaimed to be the Messiah (promised deliver king) by John the Baptist, who belonged to the family of the High Priest and a line of Kings, being carried on a donkey through the Eastern Gate, just behind the High Priest as he entered with the Passover Lamb, and he is greeted by a crowd who are rejoicing because the sacrificial lamb of God for the Passover Feast has been selected.
There are six lessons form Jesus’ entry… 1) “Victors are not vengeful but sacrificial.”
The remarkable thing about this story is that Jesus chose to enter publicly and purposely arranged his his entry to provoke demonstration. You will remember another time where there was a feast in Jerusalem and His disciples tried to talk him into presenting Himself publicly to the crowds and proclaim His kingship, he pretty much says “I am not ready to die yet.” This is the reason that after He had been rejected by the rulers of Jerusalem, he left Jerusalem to challenge people elsewhere. Every time he would go to Jerusalem for a feast, he did so quietly and secretly.
How different is this entry! He chose to enter publicly and provocatively. Here is Jesus going back into the city for a definite purpose, a planed mission, to challenge those rulers to reach a decision and then to pronounce doom of the city. This entry into Jerusalem was to announce to the Hebrews, the Jews, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation of people who worship me.” Jesus was on mission to be a blessing to all nations, bring a heavenly kingdom to all. Did he accomplish his mission? Was he victorious? All of here are those who are blessed because of Him. Yes, Jesus was a victor. By his own direction, He went riding upon the colt, a young donkey. Jesus’ choice of a donkey was significant. In ancient times, when a king came into a neighboring country to make war against that nation, he would come riding a horse. But if he was on a mission of peace he would come riding a donkey. So, Jesus chooses a donkey to proclaim himself as the Messiah, because he is fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah, the promised King, was to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. It’s awesome that the first time Jesus came to earth He came on a mission of peace, announcing Himself to you and I as the Prince of Peace. Jesus was a victor because he was a peacemaker. As we know, He sacrificed himself to bring peace to us, to establish his kingdom, the Church. We are to do the same for Christ, being both of peace and personal sacrifice. How do we do that? We greet Jesus like the crowds did, with broken branches and old cloths.
Imagine with me for a moment that we are born Roman, how would you view this entry of Jesus? Your heart will be filled with contempt for the whole movement, this demonstration. Oh, it’s just one of those religious exercises; it’s just a strange movement and weird excitement that we’ve seen before. The whole thing was so utterly and absolutely contemptible to the heathen. I put it more strongly now, and say that Jesus’ victorious entry was a laugh stock; we’re suppose to believe that the nation we’ve conquered now sees the return of their triumphant conqueror? Where is his horse? Where is his chariot? Shouldn’t the crowds have weapons? They only have old cloths and broken branches! Ha! Little did the Romans know, old clothes marks sacrificial loyalty of those who gave them. The old clothes of the disciples were of more beauty than the purple clothes of a king. Unarmed men have always been apart of God’s army, for bringing His warfare and bringing in His victory. See, Disciples of Jesus have a different way of fighting, we have a different way of being victors.
Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
When you are being laughed at and spoke to unkindly towards, realize your fight is not with them.
James 3:18 “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
When you are tempted to fight, consider peace. For peace produces results. 2) “Victims miss the vision.”
Jesus was detained, put on trial, interrogated, and sentence to death while he stayed in Jerusalem. If Jesus thought of himself as a victim of circumstances during those passion days, he would have missed the vision entirely. Not as a victim did He make his way to Jerusalem and to the Cross, but as a Victor. Let me remind us of another passage.
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Without joy Jesus would not have endured His suffering. We wouldn’t have salvation with Jesus being a victim, for he would have suffered for the wrong reasons. This is why Peter reminds us: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery trials that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Only victims think suffering is strange. Disciples plan for suffering. This is what Jesus meant in Luke 14 when he told us to count the cost of discipleship. Many have left Christ on the account of suffering, “I didn’t know I would suffering because of my faith!” It’s like going into service, experiencing being fired at and saying “What! I was shot at! No body told me that I would be shot at!” Well, obvious they didn’t count the cost, and the reason for going into service.
I have seen many within the church at large, act surprised when persecution comes to them. “This is not fair. I have rights!” I heard them say. Then they seek political help. Sometimes we make ourselves victims when we dislike something in the church, “I don’t like it.” They see themselves as victims and lose God’s vision for them: “God called you to endure suffering, that you might be Christ-like” (1 Peter 2:21). Perhaps this is why we are commanded in James (1:2): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
3) “Zeal without understanding breeds selfishness.”
The crowd shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Although a praise, it was also a cry for help because Hosanna really means “Save now!” The people are in distress, crying out to Jesus, “Save us now - Jesus!” If we look at the situation, we can say they cried, “Jesus, get off your donkey and do something!” Have you ever prayed and cried out to Jesus, “Jesus, help! Get off your throne and do something!” I have. Your distressed and you want help form God, you need God to intervene right here, right now! The crowd wanted help right then. They were crying for the establishment of a Kingdom, for authority of a King, for deliverance and relief from their burden of bondage, a new life. Jesus was going through their cried and tears toward that very goal. He was taking His way to the goal which the people desired, but in a way they did not understand. He was going to accomplish a new Kingdom in a way they so little understood that they turned the cry of Hosanna into the hiss of crucify.
See, Jesus was going to Jerusalem, not to give Himself to the hostility of his enemies to make an earthy kingdom, but to proclaim his Kingship of a Heavenly kingdom. The people were filled with zeal for Him, but it was zeal without understanding. They were seeking God’s authority, but the reason of their desire was wholly wrong. The basis of their desire was selfish, because they believed that if He were King they would be fed with material food, healed of physical disorder, brought into a place of material blessing. This is why Jesus taught his disciples that the Kingdom cannot come as they expect, a spiritual way! Have you ever had a desire that you needed God to fulfill? I need more money so I can buy that new car or that part. I need by grandson or my husband to come to church. I need God punish my enemies, so they will learn! I need my spouse to get better. I need this church to grow numerically. When we pray these types of prayers…could it be… that while we are praying, God is working to accomplish that every thing, but in a way we didn’t expect nor understand? We have to ask this question, because if we don’t we may zeal but not understanding. Without understanding God’s ways, our zeal breeds selfishness, expecting God to serve us what we want, how we want it, when we want it. Many have left the church and Christ because of this.
4) “We are to pray that others receive Jesus.”
The crowd’s cry for help perhaps wasn’t an appeal just for Jesus but for Jerusalem. They were two crowds that cried out during the passion week. The Galilean crowds that cried, “Hosanna,” and the Judaean crowds that cried, “Crucify.” I believe that day the Galilean multitudes appealed in their song that He might be received by the Jews who once rejected Jesus and themselves, to receive Jesus as King. Who answered? Remember, Jesus broke out the whip and cleansed the temple in Jerusalem that week. Not the the religious leaders, but the children, the poor, the sick, and the outcasted. I pray that you will follow the Galilean crowds’ example. We need to be in prayer that our community, our county, and surrounding counties will receive Jesus as their King. We have some rough folks out there, and some have rejected but let us not make up their mind for them. Let us pray for all people to receive Christ.
5) “Sometimes God demands change rather than consistency.”
If you continue to read about the days that follow Palm Sunday, you will find that the only consistent people in the crowd apart from the King, are the Pharisees; the hustle, fearful, rebellious, determined. They were consistent with themselves. I hear many say, “We have always do that in our church. It’s a tradition.” Remember, a person can be consistent and that may be the worse sin they commit. John was beheaded that Herod might be consisted; Herod said “I have given my word to the woman and I will bead the prophet.” The Pharisees remained consistent and continued to try to trip up and trap Jesus. Their consistency ended with the Christ’s murder. What God wanted was for the Pharisees to change their mind and hearts towards Jesus! Church, let us beware of being consistent, our consistency could mean a continuance in an evil thing. I have heard often the complaint that those in the community that have left a particular church are consistent in their grunge towards some people at the church.
We must desire that they change their heart, rather than remain consistent. In the same way, I plead with you. Just because we have always had service this way or that way, or because we have always had a sermon instead of a prayer meeting on Sunday night, we have to be willing to change if we are to worship Christ. You may say, “I have always gone to Sunday morning worship service, I don’t need to participate on Sunday nights or Wednesday nights.” It is my prayer and my plead that you will not be consistent but that you will have a change.
6) “We can be wrong in our joy of believing in Christ.”
What is the nature of our joy in the presence of the King? Is our joy that of the crowd? What was the joy of the crowd in that hour of praise? The joy of believing that Jesus would provide peace and power and plenty. National peace that they may be able to live in their nation. Power, the ability to break the Roman power by their own hand. Plenty, the freedom from all material property. This is what they were looking for in Jesus. This is the joy that was in the heart of the crowd. Ever experience joy in your expectations of Christ? God will continue to bless this nation. God will grow this church to be 150 members again. Or. God will heal me. The Christian Church has have had the issue of disciples submitting to the false teaching of the prosperity gospel. It tells us that God wants you to be wealthy, attractive, and without suffering.
We can believe these things, we can have joy in them, but we are wrong. For Paul said that if our hope in Christ was only FOR this life, we are utterly pitiful (1 Corinthians 15:19). Looking at Jesus riding into Jerusalem welcomed by the cries of the people, I can hear the King say, “My Kingdom is not of the world.” “My kingdom can never come by worldly expectations, worldly methods, or the result of material power and glory.” So what was the joy in he heart of Jesus? The vision of the purity those redeemed and the peace that would be because of that purity, the power over sin that would come to men, and the plenty of grace that would result. So what is my joy in the presence of this Jesus? God will help me suffer righteously to endure all suffering, and will make me a victor in fellowship with the victorious King!
Matthew 21:10 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Who is Jesus to you? Who do you believe that he is? What’s your answer today?